Edwards, William (1719-1789) (DNB00)

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EDWARDS, WILLIAM (1719–1789), bridge-builder, youngest son of a farmer of the same name, was born in 1719 at Eglwysliun, Glamorganshire. The skill which he displayed in the construction of 'dry' walls for his father's fields early attracted notice, and at the age of twenty he was employed to build a large iron forge at Cardiff. During his stay ia Cardiff, where he erected many similar buildings, he lodged with a blind baker who taught him the English language. In 1746, having in the meantime returned to his native parish, he undertook to build a bridge over the river Taff. The bridge was built on piers, and in two and a half years it was washed away by a flood which drove heavy objects against the piers. Edwards had given sureties to a large amount that the bridge should stand for seven years, and at once set about its reconstruction. He now resolved to build a bridge of a single arch of 140 feet span. He carried out this plan; but no sooner was the arch completed than the immense pressure on the haunches of the bridge forced the keystones out of their place, and rendered his work useless. In 1751 he recommenced his task on a new principle of his own invention. He retained the single arch, but perforated each of the haunches with three cylindrical openings running right through, by which means the pressure was so reduced as to render the masonry perfectly secure. The bridge was finally finished in 1755, and was greatly admired. It was claimed for it that it was the longest and most beautiful bridge of a single span in the world. The success of this work procured for Edwards cther contracts of the same kind, and a number of the principal bridges in South Wales were erected by him. These included three bridges over the Towy, the Usk bridge, Bettws and Llandovery bridges in Carmarthenshire, Aberavnn bridge in Glamorganshire, and Glasbury bridge, near Hay in Brecknockshire, Though none of his later efforts were more picturesque than his bridge over the Taff, they were more convenient, as the great height of the arch made the approaches to the summit a very steep slope. He discovered that when there was no danger of the abutments giving way, it was possible to construct arches describing much smaller segments, and of far less than the customary height. The style of Edwards's masonry was peculiar, being similar to that employed in far earlier times, and he admitted that he acquired it by the careful study of the ruins of the old castle of Caerphilly, which was situated in the parish of Eglwysilan. Throughout his life he carried on the occupation of a farmer in addition to his bridge-building. He also officiated as minister in his parish meeting-house, having been ordained, according to the practice of the Welsh independents, in 1760. His sermons, which were always in the Welsh language, were considered very effective. He died in 1789, leaving six children. Three of his four sons were trained to their father's trade, and David, the second, inherited a large portion of his skill. Among the bridges built by David were that at Llandilo over the Towy, and Newport bridge over the Usk.

[Malkin's Scenery of South Wales, pp. 83-94 (where there is an engraving of the Taff bridge); Wiiliams's Eminent Welshmen, p. 133; Georgian Era, iv. 501.]

A. V.